On January 16, 2013 at a press conference in Toronto, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec and the CSA Group released Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Minister of Labour, the Hon. Lisa Raitt was also present for the release of the Standard which was jointly funded by business and Health Canada.
This Standard is the first initiative of its kind anywhere in the world – when was the last time you remember Canada being first off the mark in an important health initiative? Many Canadians, and especially those of us in healthcare, often feel as though the federal government has completed disengaged from playing a role in health, so what can we learn from this initiative?
The Standard recognizes the toll that stress and psychologically unhealthy workplaces have on workers’ health and productivity and suggests standards to address them. Mental Health is the most pressing health problem of our time. Mental Health claims are the main cause of disability costs in Canada (Wilson, Joffe and Wilkerson 2002). Statistics Canada noted in 2007 that 20% of Canadians had stress-related absences from work every year. Also, 500,000 Canadians miss work every day because of mental illness. The focus of the 2012 World Health Assembly was Mental Health and, recognizing this, the Canadian Government sent Dr. David Goldbloom, Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, as a member of its delegation.
How significant was the engagement of the federal government? Minister Raitt has said since her appointment as Minister of Labour in June 2012 that Mental Health in the Workplace is a priority for her. Clearly, that’s true for her colleague, the Hon. Leona Aglukak, whose department provided a good portion of the funding. Minister Raitt spoke in June of her own struggle with Postpartum Depression and how she had not mentioned her illness at work for fear of censure. Minister Aglukak oftens speaks of the toll of Mental illness on her community. These women understand the need to address mental health issues. It also seems as though the Prime Minister does as well since his was the government that established the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2007. The loss of productivity and its impact are certainly issues that the Harper government would seek to address.
So, what could this mean? Is it possible that mental health is the key to bringing the federal government back to the health care file? Actually, if you look at their various initiatives in mental health, even just the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and this Standard, it would look as if they never left. I think it’s worth considering whether a focus on mental health by Canada’s doctors might demonstrate to the Prime Minister and his government that we understand his priorities and are ready to listen to his concerns. In fact, mental health is a good place for our focus, at any rate, given the statistics above and the needs of Canadians. Why not mental health?